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Mideast edition, Friday, May 11, 2007

Bill Engvall has a plan to keep America safe.

Barring an extremely far-reaching draft or some unforeseen twist of fate, the Blue Collar Comedy Tour veteran vowed he will refrain from joining the military.

As part of the filming of the movie “Delta Farce,” due in theaters in the States May 11, Engvall and co-stars Larry the Cable Guy and D.J. Qualls got a taste of working as soldiers.

The mix of unrepentant glee he felt at wildly firing a .50-caliber machine gun and the physical stress of wearing body armor for extended periods in desert heat made it clear to Engvall that the nation’s defense is better left to those already in the military.

“It was hot. Good God, it was hot,” Engvall said of shooting the film in sunny southern California. They were conditions that a method actor might have turned into material for the character, but the stars of “Delta Farce” are cut from a different cloth.

“They go ‘Cut!’ and me and Larry go, ‘Hey, look, they put cinnamon cookies out,’” Engvall said.

Engvall’s approach to the process was in the spirit of the film, a comedy that sees three goofs get corralled into deploying to Iraq to liberate a village from insurgents, he said.

Problems on the flight to the Middle East lead to the trio getting dropped into Mexico. Convinced it is Iraq, they set about trying to accomplish their mission.

Hijinks of the type that might befall Blue Collar Comedy men battling a group of Mexican banditos ensue, but Engvall said the filmmakers were serious about one thing: making sure the movie wasn’t insulting to servicemembers fighting the war.

The movie may be played in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at least sent there on DVD. Reggie Borges, communications specialist with the USO, said the organization will be receiving 500 copies of the movie on DVD. The USO has not decided the best way to distribute the DVDs, Borges said.

“We don’t know when we will get them, but whenever we get them, it will be sent every center in the world,” he said by e-mail.

Engvall said the cast didn’t want to portray professional soldiers as gun-toting buffoons.

“I didn’t want to be part of anything that was in any way demeaning to the military,” he said.

To avoid ridicule, the stars don’t even play men in the Army, just a trio of yahoos who get mistaken for Reservists and put on a plane to Fallujah.

“We’re not even military guys, we’re just guys who like to shoot stuff and go to Hooters,” Engvall said of the three main characters.

After visits to facilities such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the experience of playing a soldier for the film, Engvall said, he and his fellow stars developed a respect for servicemembers.

“You’re not going to find anyone more supportive of the military than the Blue Collar guys,” he said. “When we were shooting that movie, I gained a full new respect for those kids.”

That doesn’t mean they didn’t have fun during filming. Engvall, who has also flown with the Air Force’s Thunderbirds stunt team, said he had a ball shooting a scene where he comes flying down a road in the turret of a Humvee, blazing away with a .50-caliber loaded with blanks.

“Larry was driving, which scared me,” he said.

His character in the film is a free and easy soul who wouldn’t mind taking advantage of the situation the men find themselves in.

“First off, I don’t want to get shot,” Engvall said of his character, also named Bill. He doesn’t want to get hurt, he likes the adulation shown by the Mexican townspeople, and he doesn’t see a need to seek unnecessary risk.

“I’m very much like, ‘Let’s find the easy way,’” Engvall said of his character.

Engvall is known as a funny man. Along with his Blue Collar Comedy work he is also shooting his own sitcom, “The Bill Engvall Show,” and has released several comedy and stand-up albums.

But the comedian sounds serious when he talks about the military, and what he would like to say to servicemembers in war zones who might see his new film.

“There’s just no way you can say thank you enough to those kids,” he said. “In fact, all I can come up with is ‘Thanks.’”

Still, he wants to make them laugh, and said he thought “Delta Farce,” would appeal to servicemembers.

“I think people in the military are just going to wet themselves,” he said.

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